Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy birthday, Barbara Mertz.

Photo credit: Sue Feder.

Dr. Barbara Mertz, better known under her pseudonyms Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, turns 79 today. Her latest novel featuring intrepid Egyptologist Amelia Peabody Emerson is Tomb of the Golden Bird.

A University of Chicago graduate, Mertz began her fiction career with The Master of Blacktower (1966) as Michaels; the Peters pseudonym debuted in 1968 with The Jackal's Head. Her rollicking Murders of Richard III (1974) riled the Richard III Society so much that it was successful in banning the novel from England for many years. The parasol-wielding Amelia Peabody, partially based on bestselling novelist and Egyptologist Amelia B. Edwards, made her debut in 1975 in Crocodile on the Sandbank.

Mertz's nonfiction books Red Land, Black Land and Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs are staples of undergraduate Egyptology courses; indeed, the galaxy-traveling archaeologist played by James Spader in Stargate packs a copy of Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs in his luggage. She endowed a scholarship program at Hood College (Md.) for fledgling mystery writers and was the prime mover behind the founding of Malice Domestic Ltd.

I met her in 1984, and my life hasn't been the same since (a common phenomenon). For a discussion of her work as Michaels, see my article in summer 1996 issue of The Armchair Detective, "Novels of Many Shadows: The Messages of Barbara Michaels."

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